What happens when a small church has nearly all the men called away on a job in the community, leaving but one regular male attendee, who does not prefer to lead, and a host of women and children, and some visiting males?
“Normal” Church of Christ: The solitary male — regardless of leadership history or skill — must step up and lead these women and children by doing everything. OR services must be cancelled until such a time that the men can come back and lead a service. OR the men reject those who need them in favor of the assembly, which could not function without them.
Our church: Women take over, so we can have services at a normal time, in the normal place.
The title of this post is a misnomer, because it isn’t about the men going off to do a project on a Sunday morning, “forsaking” the needs of the church for the needs of the community. What if it had been a war? Or an emergency, epidemic, etc.? Sure, those are rather far-fetched possibilities, but just so it’s known: service projects that early on a Sunday are not common. These guys had special skills and equipment and an allotted amount of time to tear down and build up a new food bank in town. Sometimes, weekends are the only time they have to do projects like this.
And because this is the 21st century, the women could go join them later that day to swing a hammer, if needed.
So, why can’t 21st century women in the church pick up a Bible they’ve been reading all their lives, or a lead songs they’ve been singing forever (because that’s the only voice they had in the assembly), or pass communion plates, or pray to God like they do in every other part of their lives? Because of the body parts we possess? Because we are feeble-minded and easily deceived, in comparison to men, and will mess it all up? Because we are untrustworthy with scripture and “pattern of worship”? Because we are somehow still unclean in the eyes of God?
I’ve done a lot of learning “in quietness and full submission” (1 Tim 2:11) — much of it in a college. If I have the ability to use that education for something other than teaching my children, I should use it, especially if it allows us to hold services at the normal time, so we can welcome guests and provide a time of renewal and fellowship. Why should the women be forced to forsake an assembly because a man with the spiritual gifts of leadership — regardless of the length of time he’s been a Christian — is not around to make sure it’s done RIGHT?
Wouldn’t that be more dangerous than just allowing the women to share some of the burden of leadership once in awhile?
Here’s an interesting scenario: Say we had some kind of mass conversion of adult male Muslims* or people off the streets, who don’t quite understand the Gospel (yet) as those women in the congregation who’ve been studying it all their lives. Who is it who now must learn in quietness and full submission, like the wives in Timothy who’d never been to a synagogue? In the event that most of the men were gone one day, would any of those new, baptized, male members of the church be qualified to stand up and take authority over the women? What about an eight- or nine-year-old male who’s just been baptized, making it impossible for a woman to teach his Sunday School class, per church policy? (Funny side note: That teacher, now out of a job, could attend the adult class and speak up whenever she wanted to. Because…not worship? She could also teach her own male children at home, adult or otherwise.)
I would be all about letting them speak and give testimony, but I do not believe that it should be church practice to force the women to submit to the “authority” of someone who has not been in the church very long. I can’t imagine Priscilla, who is so often referenced by Paul for her evangelizing with her husband, kept her mouth shut when Apollos went off the rails a bit. She and her husband took him in hand and taught him more thoroughly (Acts 18:24-26). Do you think Priscilla was mentioned because she merely provided a meal while the men talked? I cannot see her doing anything but speaking up when it was necessary. How about Paul’s other female co-workers (mentioned in previous posts), or Timothy’s mother and grandmother? What about Lydia, who attended a prayer group in Philippi (Acts 16:11-15)? She converted and led the conversion of her entire household, and she began hosting a church in her home. Do you think she needed Paul to stick around and raise up some male leaders before they could get that thing going? Did they have to reject all men and only have ladies’ classes until a preacher could be sent to them? Nope, by the time Paul and Silas left the region, they already had sisters and brothers at Lydia’s house.
Really, it’s about consistency of narrative. Are women truly that much farther from God, or morally inferior, than the men? Does God play favorites, or is he impartial (as in 1 Pet 1:17 and Gal 3:28)? And why should first century attitudes toward women still prevail in the 21st century church, when we’ve modernized and standardized everything else?
Speaking of modernization… I eventually want to touch on other subjects, like instruments in worship, but for now women’s roles in the church has been a more urgent topic to me. However, yesterday really was an interesting case study on flexible worship practices. Women led the services, and though we have been in the habit of using instruments — including a projector for words to the music — our main guitar player was gone and I am not comfortable playing piano and leading songs. Too many moving parts there. 🙂
We don’t have hymnals, either. Like the first century church, we make do with what we have at the time. I confess that I used to dislike “devo songs” outside of camp, youth activities, and small group get-togethers, because the church the size of the one we used to attend, which can afford hymnals and projecting the notes on the screen above the congregation, should be able to also afford to raise good, strong song leaders and train the congregation in the more complicated hymns — if the only instruments we are allowed to use are our voices. However, when half the tiny congregation to which you belong is either too young, too new, or too shy to sing in four-part harmony those hymns others who’ve been in church all their lives probably remember by heart, you have to use easy-to-learn, easy-to-follow “devo songs” that do not require hymnals, projectors, or complicated harmonies.
We didn’t even turn the lights on in the building we were in yesterday. Well, there were some lights on in the kitchen area, and some Christmas lights strung around the room, but the overhead lights where we were sitting weren’t on. We had no need for electricity at all, and sat in chairs in a half-circle, singing songs together, taking the Lord’s Supper, sharing scripture (Psalms, no less!) and testimony, and praying as a group. That’s what I imagine the first century church was like — perhaps with more male involvement, but who knows whether the “first day of the week” might not have been a day the men could close up shop or leave their duties they had in town, like it is today.
So when I hear the term “The Pattern of the Church” used like “The Law of the Fathers”, I grit my teeth, especially since the modern Church of Christ today is so far removed from the church it’s trying to emulate, in the post-Jewish-Law first century.
I haven’t yet completely exhausted the topic of women’s roles in the church, but I do feel like branching out into other topics now. Maybe my next post will be about instruments, since that is another interesting, convoluted hot-button topic in Church of Christ Law.
Until then, the peace and comfort of the Lord be with you!
Unless this post has made you uncomfortable, in which case may the Lord guide you in your studies and testing of the scripture, until you come to a reasonable conclusion. Don’t just take my word for it! Go look it up in the true Word, and see if it is right or wrong — but do it without bias, and in the context of the scriptures around it. We cannot pick and choose verses to uphold practice if it does not hold up in context. Let the Holy Spirit point out those verses we always took for granted, and let Jesus shine light on them so we can all come to a better understanding.
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14
*EDIT, Feb 7, 2018: I originally had “Mormon” there, but I feel that is actually a little heavy-handed toward Mormons, who are often much better at being hospitable, loving people than a lot of Christians out there. We just don’t quite agree on certain religious principles, which is why I originally threw it out as an example. “Muslim” is a greater contrast, and I should have thought to use that in the first place.